Grease and baby wipes clogging Metro Van sewers

Cooking grease and wet wipes in the sewer system cost Metro Vancouver and its municipalities like Langley about $2.25 million a year, said Jeff Gogol, an environmental regulatory planner with Metro Vancouver’s liquid waste services division.

Grease is by far the more expensive problem, costing about $2 million a year, Gogol said.

“It’s like a clogged artery. It binds to the walls of the pipe, so that it gets smaller and smaller and you can’t get as much sewage through. What we’re worried about is that it can back up into people’s homes, which is not nice, or it can overflow out of manholes or into parks.”

Starting late this summer, Metro Vancouver will be launching an awareness campaign in certain neighbourhoods and measuring the impact in terms of how much grease and wipes wind up in the sewer system. If successful, the campaigns will be rolled out across the region.

While restaurants, which use large amounts of cooking oil and fats, are part of the problem, grease in sewers is also an issue in residential areas, Gogol said. Richmond in particular is an area of concern, as Asian cooking tends to involve more deepfrying and more oil.

Wet wipes interfere with the operation of sewage pumps by physically binding to them.

“We have to get guys in on a regular basis to just try to pull the rags out so that we can pump sewage much more efficiently,” Gogol said.

Some wipes break down enough to pass through the machinery, Gogol said, “but that does react with the grease, so you get this grease that’s even tougher to clean because it’s now got fibres in it.

“So all of it together is… a growing problem.”

There are national and international talks taking place with manufacturers to develop meaningful standards around flushability for wet wipes and increasing the size of the “Do not flush” wording on packages.

But the proper place for wipes is in the garbage, Gogol said.

And as for that greasy frying pan?

“If you’re just frying bacon or meat or anything, you can let it cool, take a paper towel or a newspaper, that will soak it up. If you have food scraps, it can go into the food scraps container. If you don’t, it can go in the garbage,” he explained. “It composts nicely.”

It can also be placed in a container, allowed to harden and cool, and then put in the garbage.

Liquid cooking oil in larger amounts should be collected and taken to a depot that accepts it. There are seven in Metro Vancouver, with two in Richmond and one each in Burnaby, Delta, Langley, Coquitlam and Maple Ridge. Metrovancouverrecycles.org has a list and map of depot locations.

Metro Vancouver plans to pilot awareness campaigns in certain neighbourhoods for wipes in early September and grease in residential areas around Thanksgiving.

– Tara Carman is a Vancouver Sun reporter.

For more from the Vancouver Sun, click HERE 

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